Winter hiking Tahoe’s trails
It was a Winter Trails hike almost by name only. Snowshoes were replaced by smaller Yaktrax, the snow on most of the trail disappeared or turned into a hard sheet of dripping ice and halfway through the hike warm clothing no longer seemed like a necessity.
The hike on Jan. 10, which was hosted free-of-charge as part of National Winter Trails Day, unfolded for nearly four miles round-trip on the Van Sickle Trail and included nearly 20 people. It was organized in collaboration with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, the U.S. Forest Service and Explore Tahoe.
“We hope that we continue to grow programs like these,” TRTA Executive Director Mary Bennington told the hikers. “We have been making progress with a variety of agencies to provide these types of free outdoor guided experiences that really instill lasting memories and inspire return business for our recreation economy.”
The event served as a way to showcase a hiking trail while at the same time informing the hikers about some of the trail’s history, the local environment, environmentally friendly hiking practices and, during this particular hike, the effects of wildfire in the area.
“The whole idea is to get people out of their houses and make them realize that you can get out and play in the winter too,” Bennington said.
Though the hikers did not reach the Tahoe Rim Trail, they got a small taste of some of the terrain found on the 165-mile trail that loops around Lake Tahoe.
Construction on the trail, envisioned by then U.S. Forest Service employee Glen Hampton, began in 1984 and took roughly 17 years to build. It was completed in 2001.
The trail is hiked by people from around the world, most noticeably during the two-week Tahoe Rim Trail Challenge hosted by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.
Brett Hubbaro, who was one of the guides during the hike, said he loved the experience so much it eventually spurred him to volunteer with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association. He said he enjoys the interaction with the wilderness and likes to face the challenges that go into participating on a long hike.
About the trail traveled on Jan. 10, one feature highlighted was the trailhead’s location.
“We love having this urban trailhead here,” Bennington said. “It’s so awesome with the casinos and the hotel corridor here to get people to come in and go, ‘oh, there’s this great spot to go hiking you can walk to. You don’t need to drive.’”
TRTA Director of Operations Morgan Fessler said the association is adding focus on strategic placement of trailheads close to bus stops, which could help create a decrease of private transportation to trailheads and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Winter Trails hike began at Explore Tahoe in Heavenly Village and led to Van Sickle Trail at Van Sickle State Park, which is split between California and Nevada. Van Sickle Trail eventually connects to the Tahoe Rim Trail.
The trail navigated mostly uphill, through burn areas, patches of snow and reaching scenic areas where hikers stopped and admired the views of Lake Tahoe.
During the hike, Fessler explained the work that goes into designing, building and maintaining trails.
According to Bennington, the TRTA maintains more than 180 miles of trails.
“There was nothing here,” Fessler said about the area where the trail now cuts through.
Fessler said designers take into consideration many natural aspects of the are, such as scenic sections, terrain and the presence of natural land features that can be used to highlight the area’s natural beauty.
In steep sections, almost blending into the environment, large chunks of rock are used as steps. In a particularly sharp corner, an area frequently traveled by mountain bikers, rocks were used to roughen the terrain and force the bikers to lower their speed before approaching the potentially dangerous section.
Features such as those are implemented throughout the TRTA’s maintained trails.
As hikers made their way back to the urban trailhead, with wide views of Lake Tahoe in front of them, they had gotten only a small taste of what Tahoe trails have to offer. Bennington hopes the hike will encourage people to explore the trails further.
For more information regarding trailheads or other outdoor events visit http://www.tahoerimtrail.org/.
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.